Monday, May 31, 2004

Net surfing...

The cameos of Alfred Hitchcock. The site includes film stills from 37 of Hitch's 41 cameos in his own films.

Steve Hoffmann's Nature and Scenic photography
is fabulous. [It's what I like to call eco-porn – mountains and deserts have rarely looked so supple].

Sculpted Masks of the Himalayas
. Used for religious festivals and the like.

Tokyo Show Window photos
. Wow, nice color and design.

Merlin's list of 5 things or 5ives.
Merlin has about 100 lists of five things from 'Five epic childhood injuries (and how I got each)' to '5 things Walter Huston ate everyday'.
Here's one:
'5 things and what they should cost'.
1. Six pack of domestic beer: $3.00
2. 2-bedroom house: $25,000
3. Handgun: $20,000 and up
4. Handjob: $5.00
5. Admission to First-run Movie: $2.00

[I shamelessly stole many of these links from Things Magazine]

Friday, May 28, 2004

Dargis writes about Cannes...

Finally a week after the fact the Los Angeles Times' Manohla Dargis writes her round-up of the Cannes Festival. Since the article is unavailable without paying for a subscription I will excerpt what she writes about Jean Luc Godard and Wong-Kar-wai:

About Godard and Notre Musique:
Godard's surprisingly mellow consideration of our violent age is nothing if not timely. In one of the film's most provocative scenes, a beautiful Israeli woman — who's committed suicide in the name of peace — gains entry into a stretch of paradise heavily guarded by American Marines.

Godard, who granted interviews to only three journalists at Cannes, declined to answer even the most seemingly nonconfrontational questions relating to Israel. When asked if he had named one of his main characters — yet another Israeli woman — after the biblical Judith, who beheads Holofernes and delivers the Jews, he unconvincingly answered that the name held no meaning. Despite this, the most overtly political, famously contentious veteran of the French New Wave came across as surprisingly friendly (he smiles, he laughs!), often speaking in English except when embarking on the same anti-American harangue he trotted out in his last feature, "In Praise of Love." (Why, he wondered, do Americans call themselves Americans when our neighbors call themselves Ecuadoreans, Mexicans and the like.)

As ever, Godard continues to draw lines between past and future, on the political front and in terms of film aesthetics, but these days his work tends to stir little interest beyond the usual cinephile suspects. Like many filmmakers, he dabbles in digital video; unlike most, he doesn't use it as an inexpensive substitute for celluloid but as one color in his creative palette. In conversation, Godard had plenty to say about digital video (all negative), but his most trenchant comment comes in "Notre Musique" when a woman asks if he believes that "little digital cameras" will save cinema. By way of an answer, Godard just cuts to his unsmiling face obscured by shadow. If he'd shot it in digital video you wouldn't be able to see the shot, much less his contempt.

About Wong Kar-wai and 2046:
[Wong] was less forthcoming on the question of whether "2046" was actually finished. His eyes obscured by his trademark sunglasses, Wong indicated that shooting had finally come to an end after four on-and-off-again years. His star Tony Leung Chiu-wai looked visibly relieved. And was the editing done? "This," Wong said, a smile tugging at his mouth, "is the final edit in May."

This coy cat-and-mouse likely only stoked the cynical view that Wong engineered his Cannes arrival for maximum publicity. Maybe he had; he wouldn't be the first or the last filmmaker to exploit the festival. Even so, considering that Wong ranks among the world's most important film visionaries — his impact on the medium outstrips that of Almodóvar and may prove more lasting than that of Kiarostami — the complaint seems irrelevant, trivial. "2046" may indeed be unfinished, but this sumptuous, gauzy story about a man stuck in a past of his own foolish design, emerged as a highlight of the festival. Like the other Asian filmmakers, Wong traveled a long way to get Cannes. If he took his time getting there perhaps it was because he knew the festival needed him. It would wait — and it did.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Comparing Critics...

Are film critics tougher than music critics? Or are the films that get wide distribution much worse than the music that gets wide distribution?

On Metacritic you can see - on each main entry page down the right hand side - the current releases and their accumulative critic's ratings on a scale from 10 - 100.

For MUSIC : Out of 77 current release CDs reviewed there are:
67 positive (87%)
9 mixed (12%)
1 negative (1%)

For FILM : Out of 133 current release films reviewed there are:
63 positive (47%)
46 mixed (35%)
24 negative (18%)

Part of the discrepancy may be that Metacritic tries to be pretty thorough with movie releases - by including obscure art films that play in few markets - but they only skim the surface with music.
Still, mainstream releases in any art form tend to be critically received and Metacritic does have a good number of obscure releases.

I don't have a definitive conclusion. But here is a breakdown based on this non-scientific evidence.
1) 'Yes', music is in better shape than movies are today.
2) Music critics are less critical than movie critics because they learn to love what they are reviewing. I know from experience that music tends to be much more personal and an art form that is made to experience multiple times; while movies tend to be one time events. That said I've been apt to enjoy a film more on a second viewing; but the film was at least good to begin with. I'm not sure an initially bad movie will improve much on a second or third viewing.
3) Music critics are a bit more open minded to non-mainstream music than film critics are to non-mainstream movies. I notice, for instance that in the film review section there are mixed reviews for a lot of movies I find really good such as Love Me if You Dare, Dogville and Secret Things all of which I like.
4) The selection that Metacritic chooses from is skewed. They tend to have a whole lot more critic reviews of movies than they do for music. Therefore there are greater odds that more mixed or negative reviews will get included in the final tally.
5) George Bernard Shaw once said that, 'If more than ten percent of the population likes a painting it should be burned, for it must be bad.' If we take this theory to heart then maybe music is bad and movies are actually good. [??]
I think I'm leaning toward #4 in which case my whole theory is shot.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Moving Images on the Net...

- For the love of Jacques Tati comes a neat site called Tativille. (via Things)

- Film Brain has a link [from a while back] to an intriguing trailer of Jean Luc Godard's latest film. As ambiguous as ever.

- Here's a cool commercial of Lance Armstrong. Okay, it's a Nike commercial...

- You want to see the short videos of the UFO's above Mexico? Sucker. (via Filmmaker)
George the Cyclist at Cannes

George the cyclist's Cannes Film Festival posts are on this page between May 13th and May 24th.

This post is just for the sake of an archival listing over there →

Feel free to ignore it and go this way ↑ or that way ↓
Donald Duck the Nazi...

Last night I watched part of the just released Disney DVD of On the Front Lines, which is 32 short cartoon subjects made by Disney in the early 1940’s for the war effort. Included in this is the controversial Der Fuehrer's Face in which Donald plays an overworked and frazzled Nazi.

While the short cartoon sets out to lampoon Hitler and the Nazi's it is so jammed packed with swastikas, 'Heil Hitlers' and Nazi-related stuff that it darn near undermines it's anti-Nazi massage. Plus, Donald – being a lovable duck – in such a role could likely have kids running around the house saluting Der Fuehrer.

Even though the whole thing ends up being just a bad dream seen today it's easy to see why it is (and was) controversial. Plus, even though Donald is shown in the end dressed up in an American flag costume kissing a miniature Statue of Liberty the actual final shot in the film is Nazi related.

I showed my Serbian roommate the short and told him I can understand why some would be offended. But he shrugged and said that he didn't see why anyone would find the cartoon offensive since it is made up of mere cartoon images and that there is nothing affirmative about cartoon images. I agreed that a thinking adult could come to that conclusion but that Nazi images do have a meaning and an association with horrible acts many would rather not think about.

I think it is important that this cartoon be available for all to see and it's good to see Disney release it but I would still file it under subversive art. The short is prefaced by an introduction with Leonard Maltin who tells us everything will be okay.

DVD File has an interview with Disney animator Dave Bossert who helped get the controversial ones put on the DVD.

Included on the DVD is the pro tax short The Spirit of '43 . It's actually pretty amazing to watch a mainstream cartoon - again with Donald Duck - push the value of paying taxes for the war effort, which at the time was something people were not used to paying.

The DVD has much more and is worth a look to see what Disney was putting out in the 1940's. These cartoons were made to get people to rally around a cause - in some cases to instruct people what to do and how to think about the war. Partly because we now live in a politically correct world (for instance, Commando Duck with it's anti-Japanese stance could not be shown today) and partly because a major corporation like Disney likes to stay above the fray I just don't think they would touch the political subjects today; or at least not in such an overt way.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Cannes do...just a little more.

Richard Corliss on Won Kar-Wai's 2046.

What 2046 makes unavoidably clear, is that Wong Kar-wai is the most romantic filmmaker in the world. In incandescent images of glamorous performers, he details love's anguish and rapture, which are often the same thing. Beautiful women throw themselves at handsome men—Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai—and the men often step aside. Love, the playwright Terry Johnson wrote, is something you fall in. Wong's films make art out of that vertiginous feeling. They soar as their characters plummet.

Andrew Anthony of the Guardian talks to Michael Moore and has a few (critical) insights.

Film Brain is REALLY damn glad that Park Chan-wook's Old Boy won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes thus proving what hacks the critics of the movie really are. Film Brain also tells us why he likes this Korean revenge flic so much.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Cannes Coverage: Best of the Fest by George the cyclist and Jesse D

I want everyone out there who has been reading this blog over the past couple of weeks to give a round of applause to George the cyclist who managed to watch 60 films at the Cannes Film Festival and also write, each and everyday, lengthy and coherent e-mails, which (in excerpted form) made it onto my blog.

-clap - clap - clap!

As a final post on the Cannes festival here are George the cyclists' favorite films of the festival. Below that list is Jesse D's list as a counterpoint.

George's list
I do not have an ultimate film to exalt over. The closest I came to such exaltation was the American "Tarnation". "The Edukators" started out as being such a film, but it lapsed into just a very good film, rather than a great film. Close behind were "Clean"
and "Moolaade". "Whisky" and "In Casablanca the Angels Don`t Fly" were a cut below. The best of the young women movies were "Brodeuses" and "Or". And then a pair of French movies by established directors-- "Look at Me" and "Right Now." I`ll also fondly recall the French thriller "Hook" and the Mexican "Duck Season".

Au Contraire, Mon Frere list by Jesse

- Masterpieces:
Tropical Malady

- Very impressed by:
The Holy Girl
Woman is the Future of Man
A Tout de Suite

- Enjoyed a lot:
The Consequences of Love
Old Boy
The Edukators
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2
Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession
Notre Musique
10 on Ten
Noite Escura
FlatLife (Short Film)
A Vot'Bon Coeur
Oh, Uomo
Delivery (Argentine film in the market)


If they e-mail any more insights on their bicycle ride back to Paris I'll post them here.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Cannes Round-up by George the cyclist

The films are done, and I’m sorry to report I was denied seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 for lack of formal attire. Since it won the Palme d’Or, its final screening was at prime time today, rescheduled from its original 5 p.m. slot, and as eager as I was to see it, I wasn’t so desperate as to go scrambling for a penguin suit. All the men parading around at night as if they are headed to a state dinner is quite hilarious. May I never be one of them.

Moore has clearly been the star of this festival receiving hearty applause at his every appearance. Everyone is delighted to laud him for being the anti-Bush, but few are willing to acknowledge his polemic as a film for the ages or to anoint him as an auteur. There was quite a huddle of us afterwards trying to figure out how it could have happened, and the jury had quite a time defending itself in today's press conference.

Rumors had been rampant that Tarantino loved the Korean film Old Boy, which won second prize, that also had few enthusiastic supporters. Tarantino would have loved to have given it the top prize, but his jury stood up to him on that one. Since they could get no consensus on anything else, they just copped out and decided to thumb their nose at Bush. The headline in Sunday's newspaper agreed--"Cannes: la Palme d’or qui defie Bush." There were no great quarrels with any of the other awards except for the special mention that the Thai film Tropical Malady received. It was the only award that the audience booed. In the jury press conference Tarantino admitted there wasn’t consensus on the jury for it, but that there had been a couple of people on the jury who had great passion for it, and the rest of the jury decided that since anyone could have such great passion they’d go along with it.

Even though I maxed out at 60 films, the most I've ever managed to see at a film festival, this is one of the rare festivals I've attended where there hasn't been at least one film that I'm going home wildly enthusiast about that I will be telling everyone they must see. I saw plenty of good films that I'm very happy to have seen and can highly recommend, but unfortunately, for your sake as well as my own, I do not have an ultimate film to exalt over.

It was a surprise not to have seen something truly great, but an even bigger surprise to discover how easy it was to navigate this mammoth festival that dwarfs all others. I feared it would be something to endure like Sundance, battling the hoards desperate to get into the next "must see." But there was none of that frenzy and mania here. The film-goers were very orderly and professional. I had been warned that cell phones would be constantly going off in screenings and that I'd be distracted by people leaving prematurely.

Even before the festival was half over I began looking forward to returning, knowing that I’d learned many tricks and short cuts to make it even more enjoyable the next time. I nodded off in fewer films here than in any week or longer festival I have attended, which is testimony too to the quality of films and the minimum of hassle I had to endure.

And now I am thrilled to have the open road ahead of me so I can return to my true passion - that of the bike.
Later, George

Cannes Round-up by Jesse D - [friend of George the cyclist]

Jesse, who has attended a good many screenings with George the cyclist, has a different take than George on a good number of films. Below are three films he enjoyed:

Tropical Malady , which George [the cyclist] found boring and was sure wouldn't win any awards, I thought to be the best film I've seen here. The Thai-born, art institute of Chicago grad - Apichatpong Weerasethakul - cites Bruce Bailie and Warhol as influences among more mainstream narrative directors. The film is actually two in one. The first is a more conventional story of a soldier who patrols the jungle and falls for a country boy who lives there. There's not much of a story arc here, rather more or less disjointed scenes that nonetheless build unexpectedly to an emotional climax. Abruptly the first part of the film ends with a fade to black that remains for ten seconds or so...enough to cause some audience members to whistle, thinking something had gone wrong.
The second half of the movie involves the same soldier from the first part of the movie, on a two day trek into the jungle hunting down a spirit that takes the form of a human, who looks like the country boy from the first film, or a tiger (an experimental version of Predator, as the reviewer for Le Monde humorously described it). This part of the film is astonishingly captivating and magical, reminding me specifically of Souleymane Cissé's Brightness. There is a stretch of half-an-hour I think (I completely lost my concept of time during the second half) with no dialogue, and there is only a little more in the entire second part. A monkey (through subtitles) tells the soldier that the spirit is trying to devour him and take his body, and that if he kills the tiger, the spirit will be set free, yet if he allows the tiger to devour him, he will enter the natural world of the spirit. The moment is absolutely magical, and the communication between the monkey and the soldier seems entirely natural, however absurd it sounds. The director's use of sound and lighting in this film is virtuosic.
Most people will be bored by this film but the rest will be astonished. Many people in the audience left and the majority of those who stayed seemed nonplussed, but there were those of us with awe in our faces. I heard in French as I left someone say "Magnificent. That's film." I couldn't say it any better. I only hope I can see it again soon.

Another film that George found to be a waste of time that I can't wait to see again is Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl, the follow-up to her La Cienaga. This is a film whose plot should not really be dealt with much in a review since the story itself is a puzzle until the very end of the film, when it suddenly snaps into focus, as a reviewer pointed out. Indeed, it's the formal qualities of the film that are most interesting, at least to me. The exposition in the film is almost non-existent and it takes continuous concentration to determine character's identities and relationships to each other. Abandoned subplots left dangling and dramatic detours that dead-end also abound. This might sound ridiculously maddening but the way it fits together (sort of) in the end makes these traits give the film a unique veracity and concreteness. Just two films inter her career, Martel has already developed a distinct style that makes her films instantly recognizable as her own. This is evident even with her shift from handheld video in La Cienaga to more static 35mm camerawork here.

The Edukators, is about two young men who ransack opulent villas rearranging furniture and valuables but stealing nothing, leaving notes that say "your days of plenty are over" or "you have too much money." When one of the boys develops a crush on his partner's girlfriend, he lets her in on their secret. She convinces him to spontaneously break into the villa of a man to whom she owes nearly 100,000 euros for having crashed into his Mercedes. When the man comes home during their break-in they're forced into an unplanned kidnapping that sets up the meat of the film. The film is original and avoids predictability rather well it loses momentum in its final act, especially when it gets bogged down in a superfluous love triangle (many critics made jokes from the character's names, saying the film could be called "Jule and Jan" instead of "Jules and Jim"). The film really breaks down in an overlong emotional climax, indulging itself more than it deserved.
The English-speaking critics seemed to have supported the film as the surprise of the festival while the French critics all seem to wonder what the fuss is about.
My opinion of the film has lessened even more since I originally wrote up this paragraph several days ago. The director of the film has said it shows a way to be revolutionary in a conservative age. Really though, it's just found a way to turn revolutionary sentiment into a readily consumable $8 movie ticket. Despite its arguable missteps and unrealized ambitions though, it's still a powerful movie and probably the best conventional narrative film I've seen here.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Cannes Awards...

57th Festival de Cannes Awards: [pdf]

Palme d'Or: "Fahrenheit 9/11" directed by Michael Moore
Grand Prix: "Old Boy" directed by Park Chan-wook
Best Actress: Maggie Cheung in "Clean" directed by Olivier Assayas
Best Actor: Yagira Yuya in "Nobody Knows" directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu
Best Director: Tony Gatlif for "Exils"
Best Screenplay: Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri for "Comme une Image" (Look at Me) directed by Agnes Jaoui
Jury Prize: (tie) "Tropical Malady" directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and actress Irma P. Hall for "The Ladykillers" directed by Ethan Coen
Prix Un Certain Regard: "Moolaade" directed by Sembene Ousmane
Camera d'Or: "Or" directed by Keren Yedaya
Camera d'Or Special Mention: (tie) "Passages" directed by Yang Chao and "Bitter Dream" directed by Mohsen Amiryoussefi
Jury Prize for Originality: (tie) "Whisky" directed by Juan-Pablo Rebella & Pablo Stoll and "Khakestar O Kak" directed by Atiq Rahimi

Moore said upon winning:
"You will ensure that the American people will see this movie. You've put a huge light on this. Many people want the truth to be put away but a great Republican once said that if you give the people the truth, the republic will be safe. That was Abraham Lincoln, a different kind of Republican.
I dedicate this win to my daughter and to all the children in America and Iraq who have suffered from our actions. Things will change. I am not alone. There are millions of Americans like me and we will work hard so that those who have died will not have died in vain."

Moore's win is completely political. I'm a bit disappointed. This will, of course, just make Moore's ego that much bigger.
That said, if it helps boot Bush that's a good thing.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist –
Day Ten

George starts the day off with a tough, tough film and another one that's among the best he's seen at the festival...

Jesse and I had virtually no other choice than to start this day off with Oh, Uomo by Angela Ricci Lucchi of Italy. This was a documentary made up entirely of footage of casualties from World War I. It was the most gruesome movie that either Jesse or I have ever seen. There was one sequence of guys whose faces had been deformed by injuries that I couldn't look at for more than a moment or two. But the worst was a two minute operation on an eyeball that had people wincing and groaning throughout the theatre. It made the legendary Dali-Bunuel avant-guard collaboration look like a cartoon. I was regretting I'd had any breakfast. Still, this was a seminal film we were both happy to have seen.

The Edukators remains my favorite, and Clean ranks second. In Clean Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte are both superlative with performances that could warrant tributes at Telluride this year. Cheung is battling heroin addiction and is trying to win back her son that she lost after her rock star husband died of a heroin overdose that she was implicated in. She serves a six month prison sentence for possession. Nolte is her wise father-in-law who has custody of her son. Both are very reasonable and rational in contrast to the usual assortment of unstable, neurotics that are film fodder. We can all only hope that age brings each of us the understanding and compassion that Nolte exhibits in his role. Cheung is equally admirable.
Cannes Best?...

Geoffrey MacNab of the Independent (UK) lists the ten best films he saw at Cannes this year.

1. TEMPORADA DE PATOS - Fernando Eimbcke, 2004
2. THE BIG RED ONE - Samuel Fuller, 1980
3. THE EDUKATORS - Hans Weingartner, 2004
4. THE HOLY GIRL - Lucrecia Martel, 2004
5. THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES - Walter Salles, 2004
6. NOTRE MUSIQUE - Jean-Luc Godard, 2004
8. BAD EDUCATION - Pedro Almodovar, 2004
9. MONDOVINO - Jonathan Nossiter, 2004
10. DEAR FRANKIE - Shona Auerbach, 2004

I guess he's not going to watch any more screenings this weekend.
Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist –
Day Nine

I was interviewed yesterday by Patrick McGavin for a feature he's writing for The Chicago Reader, but it had nothing to do with the several movie websites, including Daily, that have been picking up my comments and quoting me as "George the cyclist" along side A.O. Scott of the New York Times and J. Hoberman of the Village Voice and other such heavyweights.

Patrick has been attending this festival, and many others around the world, for years, and has noticed that Cannes, more than any other festival, seems to attract people of an obsessive nature. He thinks that bicycling 800 miles to watch movies all day for two weeks puts me in that category, along with all the maniacal wheelers-and-dealers that pervade this place trying to buy and sell and distribute and get movies made. I've luckily been sheltered from such ilk by sticking to the safe and serene world of the big dark rooms with the dancing images.

Movies may not be the true nature of what's going on here, but I don't mind my ignorant bliss. As with Godard's offering to this year's festival, Notre Musique, which is divided into Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, the Heaven segment of his movie and the Heaven part of the Film Festival - its movies - are just the tip and the smallest part of it.

The market screening of Notre Musique at the Star Theatre wasn't even a quarter full. It was less obtuse than the usual Godard fare, but just as pedantic. It opened with his version of Hell, one clip after another of battle scenes from the world of cinema. Purgatory was original footage of his own, which included himself and an assortment of characters including a couple of Native Americans haranguing an old guy stooped over a desk. Another character asks:
- Why haven't revolutions been started by the most humane people.
- Because they start libraries.
Heaven was some nature footage that ended after barely five minutes.

Then it was another film about teen-aged girls, or at least a couple of 20-year olds that were teen-agers at heart, in Venus and Fleur by Emmanuel Mouret of France. Venus is a flighty, free-spirited, quite attractive Russian girl and Fleur a repressed, dour, but intelligent, French girl. They both have unfulfilled longings, but they are not in the desperate straits all the other teen-aged girls who have had their traumas portrayed here. They are boy crazy and can't seem to attract any despite flinging themselves at boys on the beach, contrary to expectations and reality. Despite begging reality, this was entertaining and not without a message.

Next: Clean by Olivier Assayas.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist -
Day Eight

George sees films from French/Algeria, the Philippines, Uruguay and a sighting of Tarantino ducking into watch a non-competition women's prison picure.

For the first time an usher had to find me a seat in the Palais for the afternoon screening of the competition film Exils by Tony Gatlif of Algeria. That is the one venue that requires tickets/invitations, so there should have been seating enough. There are always people hovering around the Palais with signs asking for "invitations" or asking verbally. From my own experience outside Wrigley Field looking for extra invitations/tickets I know there all always some to be found and always empty seats in the ball park, so I was quite taken aback when I started hiking up to the outer reaches of the Palais and didn't see any vacancies.

Exils was another of those competition films that was long on style and short on substance. It's the simple tale of a very photogenic Algerian couple in their twenties living in Paris who decide to return to the homeland. They travel overland thru Spain and then by boat across the Mediterranean. Gatlif directed the acclaimed, rousing musical Latcho Drum some ten years ago, and this film too is overloaded with rousing music. That's about all it has going for it.

I next took my chances on the Philipine film The Woman of Breakwater by Mario O'Hare over at the Director's Fortnight. Philipine films tend to be overblown melodramas that have no place in film festivals except to draw the Philipino community. This film was no exception, even tho the producer promised "realism" and so did the film's pre-credit announcement--"41% of Philipinos live below the poverty line. These are some of their stories." It was an hour before the aisle I was sitting in the middle of had cleared out so I could escape without stepping over anyone.

Next up was a rare film from Uruguay, Whisky by a pair of guys, Juan-Pablo and Pablo Stoll. This was great film fest fare, and a film that is not likely to be seen anywhere but at a film festival. It is the simple story of two brothers getting together for the first time in years. The older 60-year old has to enlist the help of his 48-year old assistant from his sock making factory to masquerade as his wife. The boss is very cold and distant and has nothing more than a professional relationship with this most taciturn and submissive woman. The younger brother is much more successful and flamboyant than his older brother, singing at karaoke bars and telling jokes. The woman has never had so much attention as she gets during their weekend together, but she remains her taciturn self. This was a perfectly cast and executed movie that was a fine finish to the day.

Since the much anticipated 2046 was in transit from Bangkok, as Kar-Wai Wong went to the deadline and beyond with his finishing touches, I was free to attend the French Canadian CQ2 (Seek You Too) at 8:30 this morning instead. I figured I made the right choice when I saw none other than jury president Quentin Tarantino slink stoop-shouldered and unaccompanied into the Bunuel Theatre. He's been seen quite frequently with Sofie Copola, but not this early. There was no applause as he entered, so I wasn't entirely sure it was him until I heard his distinctive voice ask, "Is that an empty seat?" as he made his way down the third row. He knows the importance of being as close to the center when gazing at the screen. When the movie opened in a woman's prison I thought that explained why Tarantino was there, but the prison scenes are over quick. Instead, the movie turned into another of those featuring a teen-aged girl in turmoil.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist –
Day Seven: Tuesday

Read it here, read it now. More from George the cyclist

The Fest is more than half over and with the end in sight, I'm growing ever more obsessive about seeing films. For the second day in a row I squeezed in a 6th film.

There are no rules against eating in the screenings, at least yet, though I seem to be the only one doing it. There are no concession stands in the theatres, not even offering cola or evian. I try to be as discreet as possible when eating, and even have a favorite secluded nook in the last row of the Palais up in the stratosphere, where I can have a picnic of tabouli and potato salad and cheese roll and quiche without disturbing anyone. Still, I fear the day when signs go up forbidding eating or even bringing food into these theatres. That'd be the end of Ebert at Cannes. I doubt he would countenance being patted down for raisinettes whenever he wanted to see a movie.

I began Tuesday with an Israeli film, Or by Keren Yedaya. Or is the 18 year old daughter of a prostitute who is less than fully functional. The daughter supports them collecting bottles and working as a dish-washer. She is at least the third young woman lead character of the festival struggling nobly against her circumstances. She tries to prevent her mother from working her trade and is greatly upset when she returns home to find her with a john. This was the first film I've seen that didnt have English sub-titles along with the French, but I discovered my French was good enough to comprehend enough of the French sub-titles to follow this straight forward story. It wasn't a bad way at all to start the day.

Then it was from the smallest of venues to the largest for the competition screening of Tropical Malady by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who all of you know is from Thailand. If I hadn't bicycled through regions this film took place in a year-and-a-half ago I would have been thoroughly bored. Instead, I was only marginally bored, especially during the final half hour or so, as one of the characters meanders and crawls though a dense jungle during the day and night while he is haunted by ghosts and a shaman who can turn himself into a tiger. There won't be any awards for this film.

I resumed my movie-going after yesterday afternoon's internet break with The Heart is Deceitful...Above All Things by Asia Argento of the US. The title is a quote from the book of Jeremiah. The movie centers on a young boy of the same name whose sexy and sex-obsessed mother is continually abandoning him when she runs off with one deadbeat after another. This ought to have been a very disturbing and heart-rending movie, but the only thing disturbing about it was that it wasn't. His mother gives a very engaging and energetic performance and the kid is good as well along with much of the supporting cast, making it very watchable, but far from essential viewing, not even for the Peter Fonda cameo as a Bible-thumping fanatic or the kid's rendition of the Sex Pistol's song about the anti-Christ.

The Critic's Week screenings are the only ones here preceded by a short. Usually I can do without them, but the short preceding Calvaire allowed me to arrive late and not miss the feature. Calvaire was the first film by French director Fabrice du Welz and stars the husband from "With a Friend Like Harry" that I mentioned yesterday. This was another thriller, though it unintentionally trespassed on sci-fi, as the story is so far-fetched it's almost as if we've entered into a twilight zone that makes the world of Deliverance seem G-rated. This was the first movie I've attended that was booed, and with good reason.

[Tried to get into Jean Luc Godard's Notre Musique film but they don't seat after the film starts.]

I ended the evening with an Australian film - Somersault by first time director Cate Shortland. This was another of the slew of films I've seen featuring a teen-aged girl. This one was a 16-year old who understands her sexual power over men. When her mother catches her smooching with the mother's boy friend, the girl runs away to an Australian ski town. It is the end of the ski season and work is hard to come by. She uses her sexuality to find a place to stay her first night, but she doesn’t always get what she wants. Her struggles are well-told here, and once again it was a pleasure to watch something other than the one-dimensional portrayal of teens that Hollywood inflicts upon us.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist –
Day...who knows what number(?) Monday

At last count, Variety says there are 1275 films slated to be screened here, 40% of which are in English. I've been averaging five per day thru the first six days of this 12 day fest. If I keep it up, I will have seen 60, not even 5% of the grand total. It would take me 255 days, or eight months, to see them all at this rate. I snuck in an extra yesterday, thanks to an 83 minute film that left me a 97 minute gap between films. I couldn't have managed it without my bicycle however.

The 83 minute film was Hotel by Jessica Hausner. This was my second Austrian offering of the day after the stellar The Edukators. That was a hard act to match, and tho this was a noble effort, it fell short of my expectations. It had the creepy premise of a young woman going to work and live in an isolated hotel in the mountains. Her predecessor had mysteriously disappeared and no one wants to talk about it. An older maid tells her she ought to quit the place before it's too late. When the director introduced the film she warned us, "When the film is over, if you have some questions, don't worry, that's normal." The film does end abruptly, but I didn't have any real questions other than, couldn't she have made it more interesting. I don't object to understatement, but this was not so adeptly done. It was the first movie I had nodded off in, my less than six hours of sleep a night since the fest started finally catching up to me.

I showed up five minutes before A Vot' Bon Coeur was to start at the Director's Fortnight, the only theatre I've been turned away from so far, but was able to walk right into this 7:30 screening. If I hadn't been able to, I could have zipped over to a nearby 8 p.m. screening. I was regretting that that hadn't been my fate. This French film by the white-haired and mustachioed Paul Vecchiali was his story of trying to make a movie and get funding from the French government. He brought some 15 members of his cast on stage, which was about their only compensation for their efforts, as none received anything monetarily. There is a flimsy story of some mute Robin Hood figure on rollerblades handing out wads and paperbags full of money to the indigent interwoven with his laments of trying to make a movie and having his characters occasionally break into song. It was whimsical without the "whims" or "al"--a tedius "ic".

My finale for the night, however, was a barn-burner--an exceptional French psychological thriller in the league of With a Friend Like Harry and Read My Lips, other recent French entries in this genre. The French title was Je Suis Un Assasin ,(its English title is "Hook"). It was directed by Thomas Vincent. The movie begins with two crime novelists, one wildly successful and the other unknown, meeting on a train. The successful one is in the middle of a divorce that is costing him half his income and also costing him his inspiration. He proposes that the other writer murder his wife and in compensation he will publish his next novel under his name and split the huge profits, a kingly ransom for the unknown writer. He says, since they specialize in crime novels, they would know how to get away with the crime and sites statistics that would encourage this. It was only the second movie of the 30 I've seen, The Edukators the other, that had my stomach knotted in tension. This is something to look forward to.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist - Sunday / Monday


It was a balmy Sunday afternoon and celebrity-spotting was in full force. And since the 3000 or so of us who would fill the theatre all had to promenade up the red carpet, the blue-blazored official security force we all had to funnel past were taking their job very seriously this day, enforcing the stated policy of: "The use of an invitation implies a correct form of dress and behaviour while climbing the steps and when inside the Palais. It also means you agree to maybe being photographed and/or filmed." Cannes is the festival with a dress code, though we aren’t obligated to sign anything saying we'll comply with it, nor is very well-defined nor very strictly enforced. Jesse, for the first time, was denied entrance for wearing a t-shirt, jeans and green tennis shoes. The guards cited each item of apparel as a violation, though all around him people were entering with not very dissimilar items of dress.

As for the t-shirt, the Gestapo added it wasn't clean. I was sorry not to have witnessed the confrontation. Not even his fluent French could get him past the pair of guards who objected to his attire, the same attire he has been wearing the entire festival. He's accustomed to being treated as a second-class citizen by security guards as a bicycle messenger, but never with such disrespect as here, he said. He did try another entrance and was let in.

FILMS: More from Sunday:

Today led off with another film featuring a young girl, this one a 12 year old Lebanese girl in the French production Maarek Hob Danielle Arbid that takes place in Beirut in l982 in war time. Her father has deep gambling debts that imperil his life and her mother is almost as dominated by him as the African women in Moolaade, tho she has none of the strength of the African women to stand up to him. They live with the girl's autocratic Aunt, who slaps and berates their slave of a servant girl, who the 12 year old tries to defend. But she lives in a very selfish environment and falls prey to it herself. This was another very touching and worthwhile film.

Next was In Casablanca the Angels Don't Fly by Mohammed Asli of Morroco, a place I once made a circuit of on my bicycle. I was continually reminded of my month-and-a-half there by all the small nuances of life in Morroco this film offered from the pouring of tea to bathing in the bath houses. This was the heart-rending tale of a man working in a restaurant in Casablanca while his wife and children remain in their small mountain village. It was a sad, but noble tale worthy of any film festival, as good as anything I've seen so far.

FILMS Monday:
I began today with an 8:30 a.m. competition screening of the Austrian film The Edukators by Hans Weingartner. It begins with a well to do family of four returning to their mansion to discover it ransacked. The teen-aged boy is disappointed to find the stereo missing and the mother crestfallen that her porcelain soldiers are gone. The stereo, however, turns up in the refrigerator and the soldiers in the toilet. Then they discover a note "Your days of plenty are numbered" and signed "The Edukators." The Edukators are a pair of idealistic young men. Sometimes the message they leave is "You have too much money." Where this movie was headed I knew not, but I was looking forward to the ride. Once again, I'll resist plot details, though I'm sure your average reviewer will spill all too many. At one point I feared the movie was going to lapse into too much dialogue and not enough action, but the action resumes and does not disappoint in the least. It would easily be my choice for the Palm d'Dor, but since it has none of the cinematic originality that juries here prefer to acknowledge, as in last year's Elephant, or Humanite from a few years ago, it has little chance of winning top honors.

The Edukators* is a truly heartening film that I will be continually thinking back on and its many applause lines. I'd love to see it along side Michael Moore, who'd be heartily applauding the young men and their determination to stand up to the "capitalistic dictatorship." I'd like to see his reaction when one character says, "My father told me, if you're not a liberal when you're under 30 you don't have a heart, but if you're still a liberal after 30, you don't have a brain."

The last movie I have to report on before returning to the fray is Woman Is the Future of Man by Hong Sang-soo** from South Korea, also in competition. This was another movie about the lusting male. It ranged from light to not so light encounters. It was OK, but not anything of much significance, especially compared to the day's first screening.

* The Edukators revieved a 10 minute standing ovation.

** Hong Sang-soo is a really good filmmaker but he clearly only has one deck of cards.
Cannes News...

Hollywood Reporter slams Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11.
In "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore drops any pretense that he is a documentarian to pull together from many sources an angry polemic against the president, the Bush family and the administration's foreign policy. (...)
There is no debate, no analysis of facts or search for historical context. Moore simply wants to blame one man and his family for the mess we are now in.
What Moore seems to be pioneering here is a reality film as an election-year device. The facts and arguments are no different than those that one can glean from political commentary or recently published books on these subjects. Only the impact of film may prove greater than the printed word. So the real question is not how good a film is "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- it is undoubtedly Moore's weakest -- but will a film help to get a president fired?

IndieWire's Peter Burnette has a much more positive review.
"Fahrenheit 9/11," is a powerful, timely, and convincing assault on the family and friends who brought us the current mess in Iraq. This time around, Moore drops the zaniness and high entertainment value evident in "Bowling for Columbine," in favor of an elegiac approach that is less funny but ultimately, maybe, more politically effective. Only time will tell.

AO Scott of the NY Times writes about a few films in the festival including the much lauded Moolaadé by African master Ousmane Sembène and the undoubtedly interesting Notre Musique the new one from Jean Luc Godard.
From a film lover's perspective the real news came a bit earlier, at the 11 a.m. screening of "Moolaadé," the new film by the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène. Mr. Sembène, who is 81, first came to Cannes 40 years ago and has become one of the leading figures in African cinema. "Moolaadé" is a powerful statement against the practice of female genital cutting. I am not alone in thinking that "Moolaadé" is the finest film shown in Cannes so far.

[Godard's] new film, "Notre Musique" ("Our Music"), is above the fray this year, as an official selection out of competition. Like Dante's "Divine Comedy," this autumnal meditation on war, violence and ethnic hatred is divided into three parts: hell, purgatory and paradise.

More from George the cyclist coming soon...

Update on reviews of Fahrenheit 9/11:
The New York Times' AO Scott likes Moore's film too:
It is the best film Mr. Moore has made so far, a powerful and passionate expression of outraged patriotism, leavened with humor and freighted with sorrow.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive by George the cyclist -
More of Day Five [Finally some great films...]


Cannes is unlike any other festival I've attended with screenings occasionally punctuated by an outburst of applause to political statements in a movie that some in the audience agree with. It happened again in yesterday afternoon's magnificent Moolaade by the Senegalese master Ousmane Sembene, when one of the woman villager's comments, "It takes more than balls to be a man." It came about three-fourths the way into this powerful tale about women rebelling against female castration in their extremely male-dominated society. This was one of those movies that remind me of one of the reasons why I've devoted my life to traveling the world by bike--being able to submerge myself into cultures different than my own. I just love to plop down in such environments, from Laos to Bolivia, that I've passed through on my bike, and observe the daily life in such places. We certainly learn much about the people of this small village. I'll be happy to relive this movie again, whether on the screen or in real life.

Shrek 2 was the competition film playing at the Palais this morning, so we could opted for Tarnation, an American film by Jonathan Caouette in the Director's Fortnight that was produced by Gus van Sant. We'd already heard good things about it, and they were merited. It was the first extraordinary, or at least, out of the ordinary, film, I have seen here, and probably on the lowest of budgets of anything, including those in the Market. Word is his initial out of pocket expense was $250*. It is the narrative of a 30 year old man telling of his mother's tortured life and his own. It is a phenomenal weaving of snapshots and video footage, often in an experimental nature, that works. As with last night's Mexican film, at first, I thought this was going to be a dud, but it turns into a near masterpiece.

We followed that up with the South Korean film Old Boy by Park Chan-Wook. It was another of those stylish films in competition that was an attention-holder, but not a grabber. Jury President Tarantino will like the teeth being yanked out with the reverse end of a hammer and someone cutting off his tongue with a pair of scissors, but the gangster genre doesn't do much to enthuse me.

We were lucky to be turned away from the next screening at the Director's Fortnight, as we were rewarded by the best performance of the festival so far in the French feature Brodeuses by Eleonore Faucher over at the Critic's Weekly. There was more emotional impact in a single quiver of the eye of the sensational 17 year old actress who played Claire than in all the mutterances and posturings of the Italians in their lust-fest. Claire is 4-and-a-half month’s pregnant, living on her own, working in a supermarket, and has told no one about her pregnancy. She's taunted by her co-workers for becoming fat. She's fiercely independent, but sullen and uncertain and virtually friendless, although she finally finds one in an initially cold woman she starts doing some embroidering for, something for which she is truly gifted at.


*Roger Ebert claims the shooting budget for Tarnation was $187! Wire Magazine has the total at $218.32

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive by George the cyclist -
Day Five

I spoke a little too soon in yesterday's missive about the ease of getting into screenings here. Twice yesterday after writing I heard the dreaded "complet" (sold-out), when I was within 15 people of getting in at the Director's Fortnight. It was Friday night and perhaps there's been an extra surge of attendees. The first time I heard that heart-plunging word was after I made the fatal mistake of getting in the wrong line. One has three choices at the Director's Fortnight theatre. I was in the line for people with market passes, as I have, but I missed the small print that it was only market pass holders who were buyers. I wont make that mistake again.

Fortunately, I had a back up and just walked three blocks over to the Critic's Weekly theatre, which had a screening half an hour later at 5:30. It was the Mexican film Duck Season by Fernando Eimbcke. The man who introduced it said that Amores Peros had previously screened in the Critic's Weekly. If it bore any resemblance to a popular Mexican film it was that road movie Y Tu Mama Tambien of teens who go off to the coast with an older woman. This too was a movie about a couple of teens, tho it was anything but a road movie. It takes place in a middle class apartment. The teens are a couple of bored, somewhat rebellious 14 year olds who like to play video games. They order a pizza and refuse to pay for it because it was 11 seconds late. The 35 year old dufus of a delivery boy simply refuses to leave until he's paid. There's also a 16 year old girl from another apartment in the kitchen cooking, because the stove in her apartment is broken. She's the older woman of this film, who teaches one of the boys to kiss.

Many in the audience gave up on the film before it had a chance to develop some poignancy, as the acting seems at first inept and the black and white stock seems cheap and shoddy. I was sorry to have to leave ten minutes before it ended to dash back to a Director's Fortnight screening at 7:30.

I could have opted for a 10p.m. screening of Benoit Jacquot's** latest in Un Certain Regard, but that threatre requires having my bag searched and my body scanned, which the Director's Fortnight doesn't.

Its no big deal, and its so perfunctory that no one has dug deep enough into my bag to discover my bike pump, but its still an intrusion that I prefer to avoid. I don’t mind at all the packs of gendarmes on the street tho, as they are good insurance against anyone tampering with my bike.

I was first in line at 9:15 back at the Director's Fortnight, less than half a mile bike ride along the beach from the Palais. A divided four lane road runs along the beach, but two lanes of it are closed off to motorized traffic for the festival, and in some stretches all four lanes. There are a few others besides Jesse and I pedaling from theatre to theatre with passes dangling from our necks, tho I doubt anyone else has biked from Paris to the festival.

There was no need for me to arrive so early, as the theatre wasn’t even three-fourths full. I'm not sure if that was a commentary on the interest in the film or people opting for a Friday night party. The film was Bitter Dream, the first film by a 30 year old Iranian mathematician, Mousen Armiryoussefi. I thought I saw Kirostami in the audience, or at least I hoped so, as he is partially to blame for all these Iranians thinking they can just point a camera at people being themselves and think they have a movie. The subjects of this yawner were those who wash corpses before they are buried, and those who dig the graves.

It was the first movie I had a chance to let my mind wander in and reflect back on the 10 day, 800 mile ride Jesse and I had thru rural France to get here, and also to start looking forward to our continued travels on to Italy and beyond after the festival ends in 9 days. My interest in the film was perked when the elderly grave digger asked for someone's bike as payment, even tho he didnt know how to ride a bike. He said he could learn, but the client was too smart to give up his bike, offering his watch instead.


Next: Day Six when George finally sees some great films.

**Benoit Jacquot's film is "A Tout de Suite" and it got a rave review in The Hollywood Reporter. (Ed)

Friday, May 14, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist
- Day Four

We tried a different bakery this morning on our way in, but it was no cheaper than yesterday's. The lady in front of us asked for, "Un baguette, s'il vous plait," just as if we were in France*. As we zipped past the Palais to lock up our bikes I spotted Milos from Facets for the first time on his way to the same screening and exchanged a quick greeting.

Today's first screening, Emir Kusturica's Life Is A Miracle, started a little early as it was 2-and-a-half hours long. This was a farce of a different sort than last night's light fare. This had the same rollicking energy but with more at stake than a 2 million Swiss franc inheritance. This takes place in Bosnia in l992 as war spills over into a remote village with a lovesick donkey who wants to commit suicide and a cat and dog who flare up at each other. As usual, Kusturica is more bent on entertainment than enlightenment. His um-pah-pah score, however, couldn't keep the woman next to meet from continually nodding off.

My second film today, Mondovino, a documentary on the wine industry by Jonathan Nossiter, was also 2-and-a-half-hours long, though it felt as if it were 5 hours long. People were dribbling out of it after half an hour, though for those who are devoted to the beverage, such as Jesse, it wasn't long enough.

Nossitor interviews wine growers and experts from France to Napa Valley to Italy and Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Two of his featured subjects are a French wine consultant and the American critic Robert Parker**, who has been awarded the French Legion of Honor and whose nose is insured for one million dollars. The director didn't shy away from showing the egotism and smallness of his many subjects, catching them in various unguarded moments. He includes a farting dog and servants interrupting interviews and a husband sniping at a wife and all sorts of other extraneous detail, implying we are not to take these people all that seriously.... The director's tone and message waver from giving these people respect and credence to these occasional stabs in the back. He had many interesting subjects and could have made a very riveting documentary focusing on any one of them or seriously tightening the film. Jesse thinks its great, I thought it was an interesting failure.

*At an international Festival one forgets one is in France, right? [ed.]
** Wine critic Parker (and his million dollar nose) apparently get's death threats from time to time.
Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist -
Day Three

George the cyclist reports on his third day at the Cannes Film Festival.

This festival is surprisingly shaping up to be the most user-friendly and stress-free of the many festivals I've attended. Unlike the other European festivals I've attended (Berlin, Rotterdam, Midnight Sun and Thessaloniki) I don’t have to be careful to make sure a screening has English subtitles, which is a great relief. There are English electronic subtitles below the screen along with the French subtitles superimposed on all the non-French films.

Despite the huge numbers of us here, I have been able to see everything I've wanted and without having to line up a long time ahead of time, as one must do at Sundance and often at Toronto. Most of the screenings have been near capacity, but I have yet to be in one with people scrounging for a place to sit. I've been relegated to the balcony more often then I'd prefer, but that's a minor quibble. I've seen 11 films so far in 48 hours and all but those first market screenings have been worthwhile.

My first screening in the Un Certain Regard category was a documentary by Abbas Kiarostami called 10 on Ten . It was essentially a film essay, as he speaks to the camera for 87 minutes on his films as he drives around Tehran, just like many of his characters do, visiting the sites of some of his movies. His commentary was only broken by occasional snippets from his films ABC Africa and 10. He spoke in Fahrsi. The film had an English voice over and French subtitles. It is essential viewing for those who appreciate this former Palm d'Or winners work. Kirostami was introduced by Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of the festival and occasional Telluride attendee. Kirostami didn't say anything other than thanks for coming. He received an ovation after the film, but there was no Q&A, as there would have been at most other festivals.

I followed this up with another documentary, Salvador Allende by Patricio Guzman. This too was a personal film as Guzman narrates the story of this Chilean populist president who was overthrown by the CIA in the 1970’s. His key subject is the former US ambassador to Chile at the time, who fully acknowledged that Nixon and Kissinger wanted to unseat Allende, but expresses no remorse for their meddling. That's how the world operates, the powerful looking out for their own interests at all costs, he implies. Nixon didnt even want Allende to take office, as he had clearly aligned himself with Castro and referred to the US as enemy number one. This film will go well with two other films here, The Motorcycle Diaries, about Che, and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9ll. The film received a prolonged ovation, mostly over its message, not necessarily over how well done it was.

I ended my evening with the Swiss film Bienvenue en Suisse by Lea Fazer, a farce, much of whose humor an American audience would not get with jokes about the ways of the French and Swiss. This was European commercial fare. It was not quite lame-brained, but close to it. There was plenty of yodeling, but no lederhausen. It let out close to midnight. With the first screening the next day at 8:30, we high-tailed it back to the camp ground in less than 15 minutes. We had to use a special card to open the gate, which is closed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. So the gate was locked when we left this morning as well.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Cannes Coverage Exclusive from George the cyclist -
Day Two

Cannes is much quieter than I anticipated. And this morning when we stopped at the local supermarket to stock up on food for the day on the way in to our first screening we were surprised to learn it didn’t open until 8:30. So breakfast was quiche at a bakery.

We started today at 9 a.m. at the 3000 seat Palais with the first film in Competition to be screened, the Italian feature The Consequences of Love, by second time director Paolo Sorrentino. It was the story of a respectable looking 50-year-old man who is always dressed in a suit who has spent the past 8 years living in a hotel and no one knows why. His past is gradually revealed. The director has an eye for pleasing detail from faces to the shooting spray of gigantic sprinklers, and his lead holds one's attention, although doesn't necessarily grab it.

Film number 2 for the day was the first film of the Director's Fortnight, half a mile up the beach from the Palais. The Taste of Tea, a Japanese film by Ishii Katsuhito at 143 minutes was about an hour too long for me, especially with my legs still getting adjusted to the sedentary life. The film was a series of episodes in rural Japan ranging from hitting rocks with a baseball bat to playing Go and a very slight secretary beating the crap out of her boss. Most of them were meant to be comical. Some were mildly amusing and others less so. Still this is a director with a good eye for captivating images.

Day Three tomorrow.
Cannes Coverage Exclusive [from George the cyclist]

My friend George [who's a bicycle messenger in Chicago] and his friend Jesse have been cycling all over France and have just arrived in Cannes for the film festival.

George has been sending long e-mails of his adventures to a good many friends and now that he is in Cannes he has been emailing us descriptions of the films he has seen as well as insights and observations about the festival.

I will excerpt some of this e-mails here. Currently I am trying to set up another site where I can post all of the e-mails that he sends.

And the films have begun. They started off at a trickle yesterday with just 40 screenings, most of which were market screenings that some film-maker has paid thousands of dollars for hoping to get his film noticed and distributed. Today we have some 300 films to choose from and tomorrow, Friday, there will be even more.

There are some 30,000 film professionals here, 4,000 of which are press, and there were mobs waiting to pick up their credentials yesterday morning along with us.

The process was well organized, and we had our passes within half-an-hour without any hassle. We had to go to a different building to redeem a certificate for an official Film Fest canvas messenger style bag with about 25 pounds of literature including schedules and a 10 pound 1,000 page book with all the attendees, including Jesse and I. I'm here representing My Sister's Cutting Room, so there I was, picture and all, sandwiched between MTV productions and Myriad Pictures, which is representing a John Sayles movie, Silver City, with Chris Cooper that has two market screenings.

We began our smorgasbord yesterday at 2 p.m. when the first batch of films were unveiled with an Icelandic film, A Revelation for Haines, by Hrafn Gunnlaugssonin a 40 seat venue that was half full. We knew nothing about the film, not even the crucial information as to its running time, as it wasn’t listed in the catalogue. Even if it were, we wouldn't have known much about it as none of the films in the market are given a description beyond its genre and the cast. It was a satire on Icelandic bureaucracy starring a 50 year old nebbish who lived with his mother and was enamored by his secretary's mammary glands. This may find an Icelandic audience, but nothing beyond.
We were lucky it was only 75 minutes long.

Jesse and I didn't bring formal attire with us on our bikes so we can’t attend the evening screenings at the Palais. Last night was opening night featuring Almodovar's latest, the first time a Spanish film has been chosen as the Opening Night Film here. We didn’t even bother to join the throngs that had started amassing at 9 a.m. to gawk at the celebrities as they strolled up the red carpet at the Palais as if this were the Oscars or the prologue for the Tour de France. Instead we attended the 6 p.m. market screening of We Don't Live Here Anymore in a legitimate, several hundred seat theatre a few blocks away from the hub of all activity.

We Don't Live Here Anymore
This is an American film directed by John Curran with Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts and Paul Krause that had played at Sundance. Krause and Ruffalo are adulterous universality literature professors in the Pacific Northwest and Dern and Watts are their wives who they end up having affairs with. The performances are all fine but the story plods and plods.

Buena Vida
This was an Argentinean film by Leonardo DiCesare that started out as a slight romance but threatened to turn into a Michael Haneke film. If only it had. There was a worthy performance from the conniving father of the young woman gas station attendant who seems to have fallen in love with her landlord/roommate until her mother, father and daughter move in without his permission and take over.

After that, we meandered over to the beach where Hair was being projected on a large screen on the beach. One had to have credentials to sit in one of the 200 canvas beach chairs facing the ocean, but anyone could watch and listen from the sidewalk, the only type of screening that the public is privy to.

More Soon
Cannes Begins...

Daily Cannes coverage can be found all over the internet. Here are a few sites.

Cannes main page

Hollywood Reporter is great for reviews

IndieWire has a really good Cannes page.

Daily Greencine will have many links each day.

The Gaurdian UK has a few updates a week.

Yahoo links to stories from Reuters, AP and IndiWire.

Film is good for reviews and previews.

Variety is great for reviews but they charge $24.95 a month. [You can get a 14 day free trial]

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

On a lighter note...

Here is an original bunch of photographs of objects that make up the alphabet.

Do you like the sounds that Windows makes? This guy has made music from computer start-up sounds.
[When you link to the site it will seem like someone has taken over you computer. Don't worry they haven't.]

Here are some fine Japanese woodblock prints from Floating World. Some of these are merely 2 x 2 inches in size.

Speaking of things Japanese - here's a 'Hello Kitty' vibrator!

Dolls can be cool but yikes, these life-like dolls are a bit too real.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Iraq continued...

- More from Seymour Hersh in the latest New Yorker.
"How the Department of Defense mishandled the disaster at Abu Ghraib."

- Luc Sante writes an insightful article in the New York Times about the phenomena of the Abu Ghraib photos.
The pictures from Abu Ghraib are trophy shots. The American soldiers included in them look exactly as if they were standing next to a gutted buck or a 10-foot marlin.
The first shot I saw, of Specialist Charles A. Graner and Pfc. Lynndie R. England flashing thumbs up behind a pile of their naked victims, was so jarring that for a few seconds I took it for a montage. When I registered what I was seeing, I was reminded of something. There was something familiar about that jaunty insouciance, that unabashed triumph at having inflicted misery upon other humans. And then I remembered: the last time I had seen that conjunction of elements was in photographs of lynchings.

- Sean Hannity wasn't too angry about the torture but now - because of the brutal beheading of an American contractor - he is pissed off and taking names and he has a video of the crime. [I haven't watched it and I don't plan to but for the sake of fairness and balance].

- A woman named Stephanie Sinclair has some compelling photographs from Iraq over the past year and a journal too.
Make it so...

Zogby predicts that Kerry will win the Presidential election.
Running fast...

The New York Times today has a good long article on Ethiopian long distance runners. Their celebrated runner Haile Gebrselassie - who has set 17 world records - is the center piece of the article.
Despite having fewer elite runners and paltry resources, Ethiopia has outstripped its East African neighbor Kenya as the greatest distance-running country at major international competitions.
At the world cross-country championships in March, Ethiopia staggered its opponents by winning 14 of 18 available medals. Another medal haul is expected at the Olympics in Athens in August.
[All this despite the fact that Ethiopia is] considered among the four poorest [countries] in the world, where the gross domestic product is $110 per capita, and the backbone of the economy, subsistence farming, is vulnerable to cycles of drought and famine.

Monday, May 10, 2004

MuckRaking Movies...

Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader is lukewarm on the anti-McDonalds' diet documentary Super Size Me.

He criticizes the film thus:
The main thing [Morgan Spurlock] borrows from Moore's style of muckraking is a cheerful smirkiness, a way of simultaneously playing the fool and showing how wised-up he actually is behind the jokey facade. (It's not wholly unrelated to President Bush's just-plain-folks act, even if Bush uses it for different ends.)
even though the film does a fair job of sketching out the health hazards of fast food, it's lazy about exploring alternatives; all it requires is that we nod when a talking head tells us that problem kids who switch to a well-balanced diet behave and perform much better than those who keep eating junk.

Instead he recommends people see McLibel a much heralded documentary that didn't make a dime. Rosenbaum writes:
In 1986, two young London environmentalists and social activists -- a barmaid named Helen Steel and a former postal worker named Dave Morris -- put out a leaflet charging McDonald's with false advertising, causing third world poverty, selling unhealthy food, exploiting workers and children, torturing animals, and destroying the Amazon rain forest. McDonald's, which had already used Britain's harsh libel laws to silence more than 50 critics in the 80s, filed suit against the two. The trial -- the longest in English history -- ended up costing the corporation £16 million.

The 50 minute video can be watched online here for free.
Cassavetes and Scorsese coming...

Criterion has announced they are releasing a box set of John Cassavetes' films this fall. And Warner Brothers has announced a six disc collection of Scorsese films to be released this August.


Saturday, May 08, 2004

News Updates...

Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Commitee yesterday:
But Rumsfeld warned the committee that the worst was yet to come. He said he had looked at the full array of unedited photographs of the situation at Abu Ghraib for the first time Thursday night and found them "hard to believe."

"There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane," he said. "... It’s going to get a good deal more terrible, I’m afraid."

U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and “acting inappropriately with a dead body.” The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.

- Remember Rumsfeld knew about this in January....
Fire. Him. Now. And don't stop there.

Meanwhile Michael Moore admits the Disney ban was a stunt for publicity.

Less than 24 hours after accusing the Walt Disney Company of pulling the plug on his latest documentary in a blatant attempt at political censorship, the rabble-rousing film-maker Michael Moore has admitted he knew a year ago that Disney had no intention of distributing it.

- Disappointing. But. Typical. He's a media hog.
However if Disney refused to release the film because of the tax break initiatives they would lose in Florida then that's still a good reason to criticize Disney.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Films of the far

We are only in May but already I have a top ten list of films.

Rather than just list the films I've decided to pair them up and make thematic and topical comparisons because – you know – it's a little more challenging; not to mention fun.

[I've purposely chosen to leave out the names of the characters/actors and the names of the directors/writers to save space and just deal with the primary theme connections of each of the films].

- Dogville and Kill Bill V2 – The main characters in both of these films are women who are trying to escape their destiny (or fate) as women gangsters who have been under the auspices of older men (a father and a father figure, respectively). Both women reach the end of their journey and confront their father (figures) and the reality of their situation and are faced with having to decide who they are and who they will choose to be in the future. Dogville – a Danish film – is psychologically violent and the more pessimistic film. Kill Bill (both Vol 1 and 2) is more physically violent (albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way) but it has a more optimistic outlook. Both films too are well over two-hours in length and deal with an element of artificiality to point out larger themes about reality.

- Blind Shaft and Crimson Gold – Both of these films deal with the consequences of crimes among the working class. Blind Shaft is a Chinese film about two grifter miners who kill other miners and then collect under-the-table compensation money from the mine owners using blackmail methods. Crimson Gold is an Iranian film about a working-class delivery man who is driven to murder an upper-class jewelry salesman who refused to do business with him. Both films have a portentous quality that can only end badly. With Blind Shaft there is a layer of ironic humor, which shows us the illegal activity will be carried on by a new generation. While Crimson Gold is a much darker film primarily because it shows us in the opening scene what will happen - then it flashes back to show us everything that leads to the opening. Both films have the quality of gritty realism to make their point. Both films have also been made under repressive regimes and have had trouble playing in their home countries.

- Distant and Springtime in a Small Town – Both of these films deal with a character who travels a long way to visit a relative or an old friend and while there they encounter problems. Both films also deal with the concept of both physical and psychological 'distance' between characters. Distant is a Turkish film about a poor country cousin who comes to visit his rich city cousin with the intention of finding work. Over the course of a few days tension grows between them with respect to the wife; who seems willing to leave her husband for her older lover. Springtime in a Small Town is a Chinese film about a city man who comes to visit an old sick friend who lives in the country. The city man had once been in love with his friend's wife and now the sick friend's relationship is falling apart. A tension grows between them. Both films deal with the loss (or at least change) of friendship and love over time. Both films also blend cinematic form and thematic content quite well. Distant has a good many shots from a distance and Springtime uses a decaying home as a metaphor.

- The Same River Twice and Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring... - Both of these films deal with both physical and spiritual matters and the lessons we learn as we grow older. The Same River Twice is a documentary about 40-somethings who recall their Grand Canyon river trip together twenty years before when they were young, healthy and living the romantic life. Now they are growing older, they are not as healthy and tey have a different perspective on their lives. Spring, Summer... is a Korean film that follows the journey of an old monk and a young boy who lives with him on a floating monastary. The old man is wise but troubled when he fails to train the young boy to be a good monk. The young man grows older and gets into a lot of trouble, which in time fortifies his understanding of life. In both films the people involved are able to reflect a bit on their lives with the knowledge that they cannot change the past; but life goes on. Both films also deal with the role of nature – in this case the Colorado River (Same River) and a placid mountain lake (Spring) - as both a reality and a metaphor for their lives.

- Secret Things and Touching the Void – These are the most difficult two films to pair up because they are almost completely different films; but here goes. Both of these films are primarily about survival against great odds. Secret Things is a trashy, sexy French film about a woman stripper who becomes obsessed with a narcissistic, rich guy who has a reputation for abusing women; many of whom kill themselves after he is done using and sexually demoralizing them. Touching the Void is a re-created documentary about a harrowing story of a man's survival on a mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Two men climb the mountain and on the decent are swept away into a storm. One falls into a large crevasse and is left for dead by the other man. Over the course of a few days the man - who is presumed dead - preservers against everything; the mountain, the weather and his own broken leg can throw at him. In Secret Things and in Touching the Void both characters face their demons, both are at deaths door but both find a way to overcome their limitations and survive.

There are so many films to be released throughout the rest of this year that this top ten will undoubtably change. And in fact there are some other films such as The Return and The Five Obstructions that could make this list later.

Hmmm what do The Return and The Five Obstructions have in common...?

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Yes, this is not a joke...

Welcome to the future of sports advertising.

Major League Baseball, never an aggressive marketer, did a stunning about-face yesterday. It announced that it would promote the new movie "Spider-Man 2" at all games on the weekend of June 11 to 13, including placing a Spider-Man symbol atop the bases.

Jacqueline Parkes, baseball's senior vice president for marketing and advertising, said the promotion was intended to attract youngsters to the game.


Strictly for kids.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Censorship for Dollars...

From the New York Times:

Disney Forbidding Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush

The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.
The film, "Fahrenheit 911," links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis - including the family of Osama bin Laden — and criticizes Mr. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A senior Disney executive elaborated that the company had the right to quash Miramax's distribution of films if it deemed their distribution to be against the interests of the company. The executive said Mr. Moore's film is deemed to be against Disney's interests not because of the company's business dealings with the government but because Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore's film, which does not have a release date, could alienate many. (bold mine)
"It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle," this executive said.
Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

(Bold mine)

Michael responds here.

My view is if this tax break charge is true then this is actually worse than censorship.

What I find particulary gauling is this statement: "Mr. Moore's film could alienate many". Who the fuck are they kidding? Isn't that what artists are supposed to do? Why is alienating people a bad thing? Especially in a democratic society where ideas should flow freely?

What's just as ridiculous is that Disney knew exactly the kind of film Michael Moore would make. Pulling out now and denying distribution just makes them look like (Conservative) political dups who are afraid not only to ruffle feathers but to upset future financial dealings that have nothing to do with the film in question.

But have no fear in the long run this will actually help the film because now it is a censored product. Let's see if now it wins a prize at Cannes and goes on to make millions.